Earlier this year, Susan Boyle became famous for being able to sing well even though she was neither young nor pretty (apparently we find this surprising!). Simon Cowell rolled his eyes when she first walked on stage to sing on his TV talent show The X-Factor, although he soon warmed to her when she began to sing.
A few months later, he was in the US filming the US version of his talent show, American Idol. As the season advanced, he declared several times that one contestant, Adam Lambert, would become an international superstar. Adam didn't win - he came second - but Simon continued to make his prediction, confidently declaring to print and TV journalists that Adam would 'go global.'
So How Did it All Shake Out?
Now it's December and both Adam and Susan released their albums on the same day. One sold 1.8 million copies in 3 weeks and topped the US charts three weeks in a row. One sold 290,000 copies in the same timeframe, most of them in the first week, and dropped from #3 to #30 by the third week.
But surprisingly, the chart-topper was Susan Boyle, not Adam Lambert, and she topped charts in other countries too, selling an amazing 715,000 copies in the UK in just 2 weeks (Adam sold just a few thousand copies). Her US debut edged out Eminem as the biggest first week seller of the year.
So why did one succeed and one struggle to make a splash? And what does that mean for your job search?
You have to sell what they need
My own theory is that Susan Boyle is meeting a 'need' and Adam Lambert isn't. And to me that's the key takeaway for anyone marketing themselves, whether a job seeker or a small business owner.
There is no one else doing what Susan is doing - or at least not anyone the public knows about. Millions of middle-aged women have been inspired by her story and by her voice. They want to buy music, but there's very little on the charts that they enjoy. So of course when they get the chance, they rush out to buy the record.
Adam is a little different. His music is Lady Gaga/Pink/Madonna in style. But those 3 ladies are all going strong and doing what they do better than he does. The audience isn't really looking for another Lady Gaga because they already have one.
(By the way, the guy who beat Adam had even worse sales. His CD was kind of a cross between Jason Mraz and sub-Rob Thomas. But since we already have Jason Mraz and Rob Thomas, it hasn't taken off).
What Do Employers Need?
Most people approach their job search by figuring out what they have to offer. Some people follow the personal branding movement, which is all about spending time analyzing yourself to figure out what makes you special. But I think Susan Boyle highlights the flaw in this approach. If no one needs your special talent, no one will buy it - or you.
I think that when you start your job search, you should begin at the beginning - what do employers need? Once you know that, you can identify what makes you uniquely valuable to those employers. But you'll be doing it from the perspective of what the market needs - not a selfish focus on yourself and your gifts.
For example, you may be a financial reporting guy with an array of talents. You work in an industry that has been hit hard by the recession. You know that all companies are cutting back and looking for ways to do more with less. Given this reality, are you going to highlight your ability to help start-up companies grow? Or are you going to focus on the fact you have tons of experience with cost containment and downsizing, and a talent for identifying new market openings that increase revenues? Obviously you'll want to go with the latter. You may not even mention the start-up experience. (Why distract from your central message?)
It's Just Not About You
If you follow my advice, I can't promise you a chart-topping album - you'll need Simon Cowell for that ;-) But I can promise that you'll get more interviews than the people who are not focused on meeting a need.
Remember this when looking for a job (or trying to market a small business) - it's not about you. It's about what your customers/target employers need.